Ponoka Secondary Campus is trying hard to manage multiple challenges and Principal Ian Rawlinson is appealing to parents to think and act like stakeholders in this process, not for the school, but for the sake of better education for their children.
“I would rather have parents driving me crazy, asking 100 questions than having parents not engaged and not caring about what their kids are doing,” the principal said in an interview.
The educational tasks that are a lot more demanding than they appear on the surface are complicated by infrastructure problems, such as the ongoing construction at the gym and lack of adequate space for proper teaching. And there are other problems lying beneath the surface, problems that need to be dealt with without any delay.
Rawlinson said the mere task of transforming a composite high school to a secondary campus, accommodating the students of the now closed Diamond Willow, is daunting in itself.
But the new flexible education program, dubbed “Moving Forward” that the school is implementing as part of the province-wide experiment to transform the curriculum is adding a lot more to the burden that both the school administration and the teaching staff have to carry.
Structure vs Flexibility
“The flexible program recognizes that each and every student does not learn at the same pace and are different in their learning capacity,” Rawlinson said.
Therefore, the “Moving Forward” program, while maintaining the traditional teacher-student interaction at the classroom to a large extent, provides the opportunity for students to identify the areas where they are weak and seek assistance from the teacher of the subject during the time they are freed from the traditional style of classroom teaching.
As such, a student who is good at social but poor in math could go to the math teacher in the free time allocated to them to improve their skills and upgrade their knowledge.
But while allowing for this flexibility, the school has to maintain a structured education program, as well; an enormous scheduling challenge.
This new system also allows to students to choose when they would like to write their diploma exams when they feel they are ready.
“So if they are ready in November, why keep them in the class until January,” asked the principal.
“Some 100 of our students have been making very good choices as to which teacher to go to and in what subjects they would like to receive support,” said Rawlinson. “And they are already successful students.”
But a majority of students need guidance in deciding in what courses they need to be supported.
Further, the implementation of the flexible program at the PSC is complicated by something that Principal Rawlinson would rather not have had among his students: inadequate literacy skills.
“Some 20 per cent of our students cannot read at their grade level,” said Rawlinson. This is clearly a failure of the system, but regardless of who is to blame for it, the problem is there and it needs a quick fix.
“It is a disservice to students if we don’t start them with the basic fundamentals of life and literacy is a fundamental of life,” said Rawlinson, adding that they were directing students to extended literacy sessions.
“It is not that they are going to go for three four weeks to miraculously learn how to read, it does not work that way,” he said stressing the amount of catching up to do that challenges both the students and the teaching staff.
“But I am not sure if we can fix the problem when they are 15 years old, it needs to start at Grade 1, it even needs to start pre-school.”
Recognizing the efforts of his teaching staff, Rawlinson said each and every one of the teachers at the school was putting programs in place in support of strengthened literacy skills.
Changing Education Environment
According to a survey among the PSC students of working age, some students work, on average, 27 hours per week in part-time jobs. This is in addition to their academic hours and practice and game times if they are involved in any sports activity.
“That is nearly a full time job,” said Rawlinson. “Those students are busy.”
In addition to the many more things that they have to allocate time for, students under the “Moving Forward” program are being asked to take responsibility for their education by deciding which course they should be asking additional assistance for and how to manage their time.
The principal thinks this is a major hurdle for the students to overcome.
Parents’ call of duty
Here, parents have a big role to play by engaging both their kids and the school in order to lend support mostly the former rather than the latter.
“I think the parents should make an effort to understand what this school and 108 other schools in the province are trying to do.”
“Just because the schools looked in one particular way for 50 or 60 years does not mean that it will continue to look that way.
“Kids have changed over the last 20-30 years but the system hasn’t changed. The system has to change to meet the needs of the kids,” Rawlinson stressed.
He also appealed to parents to provide feedback to the school as to how their children were doing.
“They should work with their children to make them understand that they are empowered for their education.”
“I need them there,” he concluded.